Is Chinese Nationalism Rising? Evidence from Beijing - CWP Co-Director Alastair Iain Johnston

Wednesday, Apr 5, 2017
by dsuchens

Alastair Iain Johnston is the James Albert Noe and Linda Noe Laine Professor of China in World Affairs at Harvard University.

“Rising nationalism” has been a major meme in commentary on the development of China's material power since the early 1990s. Analysts often claim that rising nationalism, especially among China's youth, is an important force compelling the Chinese leadership to take a tougher stand on a range of foreign policy issues, particularly maritime disputes in East Asia. The rising nationalism meme is one element in the “newly assertive China” narrative that generalizes from China's coercive diplomacy in these disputes to claim that a dissatisfied China is challenging a U.S.-dominated liberal international order writ large. But is this meme accurate? Generally, research on Chinese nationalism has lacked a baseline against which to measure changing levels of nationalism across time. The data from the Beijing Area Study survey of Beijing residents from 1998 to 2015 suggest that the rising popular nationalism meme is empirically inaccurate. This finding implies that there are other factors that may be more important in explaining China's coercive diplomacy on maritime issues, such as elite opinion, the personal preferences of top leaders, security dilemma dynamics, organizational interests, or some combination thereof.

International Security

Winter 2016/17, Vol. 41, No. 3, Pages: 7-43

Posted Online February 1, 2017.


© 2017 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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